Better Base Databases

October 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

The open source office suite OpenOffice and the related branch LibreOffice (my fav) are a great package for your word processing and spreadsheet needs – for free. I’ve been using them for years, ever since MS Office started locking up my machine – even when it wasn’t running. I’ve used OO for complex projects like a book with master document and separate chapter documents, auto-table of contents, end notes and more. They work fine with MS Office documents but do even better with the Open Document standard. This standard avoids some of the issues with proprietary formats. (ever tried to open a very old Word document?)

Where the package is weaker is with Base, it’s database component. Data is much more robust when stored externally from the reference document. I had a spreadsheet that was getting a little too large and decided to migrate it to a database in Base. I could then add more fields, have a data entry form, predesigned reports and so much more. I attempted to use an external SQL database (mySQL) but this required a bunch of added software and a very obscure process. While I successfully created a database, it wouldn’t link properly. I needed something more straightforward to manage.

I ended up just using Base, but with a default embedded database.  (Microsoft Access has the same issue btw) As is not so uncommon, it recently hiccuped and was unable to repair 2 components. Happily I use FileHamster, so was able to quickly recover a version saved prior to the hiccup.

But I knew I needed a better solution. This time, I ran into a more straightforward alternative for an external database. This uses JDBC and macros to manage your external data. The database is stored in the folder, outside the ODB file and is thus less prone to being corrupted. The folder is fully portable.

The instructions look long and complex but it’s actually pretty straightforward, with lots of detailed notes. Just follow the steps. I’ve summarized them below to give you a sense of it. They’re the same with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

For a new database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– download and put the Split_HSQLDB_Wiz template in a new folder
– open the template in Base and begin creating Tables and so forth
You’ll notice the 3-4 table files are created outside the ODB file, hence external.

Here are the steps in detail

For an existing database:
– check 2 correct settings (I’d recommend Medium security)
– create a new database folder
– copy your old ODB database into the folder
– using a Zip program like 7-Zip, extract the files in the database folder (your tables) of the old database into the new folder
– rename the extracted files to match the new database name, as in mylist.data
– download and put the mydb_wiz.ODB and jar file in the folder
– open the new ODB and your tables will be seen “within”
– open the old ODB file and drag and drop the Queries, Forms and Reports into the new one
Save and done.

Here are the steps in detail

You can then delete the old ODB and rename the new one appropriately.
The folder will contain the new ODB, the jar file, and the 4 db files (with no extensions). The files have to be kept together but the folder is portable.

When you open the database, the footer in Base will show JDBC | hsqldb:file:///… instead of Embedded, indicating an external database.

If you appropriately use Medium security, to avoid accidentally approving macros in an unknown document, you’ll have to OK the macros each time you open the database. To avoid this, you’ll want to add the location of your new database folder to “Trusted file locations” in Security, Macro Security, Trusted Sources tab.

Happy Data!
David

Social Media – Bane or Blessing?

October 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | Leave a comment

Social media is an interesting bird. On the one hand, it’s connecting us globally as never before. It has helped facilitate the Arab Spring and Occupy movements plus many flash mobs. It reconnects us with old friends and makes distances and differences grow smaller.

On the flip side, it’s no replacement for a social life. It depersonalizes social connection and creates false communities. Facebook discovered that users watching “friends” all-positive feeds were getting depressed. They ran experiments to manipulate users moods with fake friends data.

Many free services are funded by advertising. Companies discovered that with better user tracking, they could offer their advertisers more targeted ads. The experiment has largely been a failure but rather than backing off, there has been a sharp increase in the level of tracking. More and more services are being cross-linked and more and more companies are sharing their user data to enhance tracking. While companies have to respect your email address by law, they can do what they like with your activity data. It makes big news when hackers breach security on your purchase data but when they announce another massive data sharing agreement you didn’t approve, you don’t hear a peep.

Another trend is to consolidate services such as at Google, Microsoft, and Apple. This is being driven by the desire to consolidate user data from all services. They’re not interlinking YouTube, GMail, Search, Calendar plus your various accounts for your convenience. If you also use the Chrome browser and have an Android phone, I think you’d be a little startled how much information is being gathered about you. It’s much the same with other services. Facebook invites you to “friend” businesses so your purchasing activity gets added. They actively share info with data consolidation businesses. Did you also let them load your address book? There’s a big reason the government is making record requests of such businesses for user data.

Myself, I don’t think it’s a big deal if a web site knows a little about it’s visitors. Most sites, including this one, track what pages visitors view and how many things they click. Did you look at 3 pages or 5? If you make a comment, they record your IP address. (do you really think comments are anonymous?) Many also subscribe to get notices of new articles. But those are typically managed separately. Subscribers are not tied to page reads or comments here. Newsletters similarly track opens and clicks to see what people respond to but they don’t track web activity.

It may not seem like much when you talk about your dog here, chat about work there, put up a dating profile here, share pictures there, and so forth. But taken together, there is a massive library about many people on-line. It becomes information you often no longer own or control. Plus it can be used against you in court.

If you check out archive.org, you realize a lot of it never goes away even if you close your account or shut down your web site. The Wayback Machine now stores almost half a trillion web pages, including the first version of my original web site and comments I made on a tech site over a decade ago. Facebook doesn’t delete closed accounts. And so on.

The issue arises because this user data is not being used in a respectful way. And it’s being kept. Users are seen as objects to be manipulated. Government efforts to access this data, that they can’t legally collect themselves, is encouraging a new trend – moving the data off-shore to avoid local regulations. The players all have vested interests in expanding the collection.

It’s most prolific form is now on smart phones, the leading edge of device proliferation. Thousands of apps for your phone and many of the recommended ones want excess permissions. Why does a game need your address book and call list? User data.

Social Sharing
And this brings us to a new feature of this site.

As I discussed back in the Plug-in section of setting up a blog, there are three types of social sharing on a typical blog:
1 – Feeding new articles to your social media sites
2 – Offering the buttons to connect with you through the social media sites you use
3 – Offering the buttons to share your article with the social media sites readers use

The last is often the most visible. Below, beside or above many articles is a row of sharing buttons. These allow users to easily click the service of choice and share your article with others.

However, the tools used to provide this sharing are of 2 camps. On one side are services that simply refer the user to their account on the social site. On the other are services that track this process. In other words, they make money from tracking your site visitor activity in exchange for a free service. The shady part is they don’t usually bother to tell you that.

Unlike other features on my main site, social sharing has been one of the more problematic. I’ve tried quite a few tools but they’ve all typically had issues.

Such tools require constant updates due to regular changes to various services. The simple ones I tried often lacked many services, were out of date and thus partly broken, and/or tended to have bugs. The ones that were updated and working well typically included tracking – that’s how they’re funded.

For example, the service I originally used had many service links, was low key and promised no tracking. But with no budget, it gradually went down hill. The next one was was simple and lightweight but wasn’t getting updated or fixed. I couldn’t configure it how I was supposed to be able to and support questions went unanswered. Another very popular one is prone to bog down your site.

During another round of research, I tried another decent one but it was showing in places I didn’t want and it uses a List item structure (even though not a list). This caused it to inherit the themes List settings inappropriately. Again, no fix available.

AddtoAny
I then discovered the potential of AddtoAny. It allows you to select the number of displayed icons, select a range of looks, and has a sub-menu with dozens more social media services. When I made suggestions to improve a recent update, they quickly came back with an even better option.

In checking it’s background, I found they also offer the service for web sites and many other platforms like Blogger, Typepad, Joomla. The big surprise though was one for free WordPress.com, like this site. The free WP.com doesn’t have a plug-in architecture so few such services are available for it. You get what WordPress offers. In this case it adds a few settings to Settings, Sharing. It lacks the customization of a full plug-in and it appears removing all enabled services would be the only way to “remove” it. But it’s a pretty big improvement for a free blog. The only bug I’ve seen so far is its not showing on the most recent posts. Just ones a bit older. Odd, that.

The big issue it raises is user tracking. The full plug-in shares data with your Google Analytics but the company itself tracks much more. Some of these sharing services even track activity on your site, even if a reader doesn’t click on a share icon. Just loading the plugin does it.

While they don’t bother to tell you this, it becomes very obvious if you use a browser plug-in like DoNotTrackMe. Personally, I found the plug-in overzealous and it blocked too much functionality, but it certainly gives you a sense of how much user tracking is going on. You might be surprised how much tracking your own web site is doing without your knowledge. Larger sites commonly have numerous entities, all tracking users.

To their credit, when asked AddtoAny did offer the switch to turn off tracking. However, as this article notes, AddtoAny has since been bought by another company which has added further tracking.

This page offers another illustration of how far it’s gone. It will show you how many member companies are tracking you. And this is only member companies. They check the tracking of hundreds of companies on your computer in a few minutes. The irony is that if you use an Ad Blocking plug-in (like AdBlock Plus), you don’t see the ads (whew) but they’re still tracking you. I talk about other safe browsing tools here.

Advertising does support many free services but targeted advertising has been crossing a line. They say they’re not tracking user-identifiable information but often that’s bullocks. The more they track and the more they compare notes, the bigger the picture they have of you. Would the government be asking them for records if there wasn’t traceable data?

In the meantime, it’s a balancing act. Providing the service and convenience on the one hand and  trying to mitigate the abuse on the other. You can’t really avoid it. If you’re going to use the web and email and social media, you’ll be interacting with others who are being tracked.

Be aware and safe surfing.
David

Kiva Microloans

September 18, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’ve written before about how microloans can allow the average person to easily help someone fund a project. I’ve also mentioned the powerful book The International Bank of Bob, on one guys experience with Kiva.

My own original loan through Kiva has now been repaid and reloaned 17 times in 13 different countries – to students, grocers, suppliers, and makers; to single mom’s, young families, groups, and more. Making a loan takes just a few minutes, unless you choose to browse the many opportunities.

Kiva has recently released a video on how simple the process is. How to turn a dozen toonies* into real value.

*a “toonie” is a nickname for a Canadian $2 coin. The $1 coin has a Loon on the back, hence a “loonie”. The nickname of the $2 coin followed suit although personally I liked “doubloon” better.

Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster

September 10, 2014 at 9:32 am | Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

The understanding of the place our galaxy holds in the universe has been evolving.
Laniakea means “immeasurable heaven” in Hawaiian.

Earth’s new address: ‘Solar System, Milky Way, Laniakea’ discusses this
also
New Galaxy Map Relocates The Milky Way

Do Not Search

September 7, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Posted in Economoney, Internet, Online services | Leave a comment

In a recent article, tech author Fred Langa pointed out an issue you may have run into. Search engines like Google rank web sites partly by popularity. Pages with a lot of incoming links often show higher in search rankings than others.

We might assume this is because they contain the best information. However, I’m sure you’ve noticed junk sites on the first page of your search results. Some of this is from useless sites cross-linking each other to increase Google ad hits. Google is trying to fight that now, creating problems for other sites that cross-reference each other through Guest posts and promotions. But that’s another subject.

There’s another surprising way sites rise in the ranks – bad reviews. For example, if you alert people to a scam, fraud or other questionable kind of business, those links will improve that sites search engine ranking over time. That will increase the number of people being exposed to them, defeating the point of your calling them out.

DoNotLink is a creative solution. If you want to link to a site that has issues, paste the link into their web site and they’ll give you a short URL. A short URL that is not tracked by search engines. (using server settings)

It’s a free service like other URL shorteners. If you ever want to share a link that you DON’T want to promote, DoNotLink is the easy fix.

And of course you never want to link to sites with infections. Naming them is quite enough.
David

For Subscribers

August 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Updates | 1 Comment

When I launched this blog 7 years ago last month, I added Feedburner so you could subscribe. Later, WordPress added their own subscription tool and made it automatically active. So the blog developed 2 sets of subscribers. Google then bought Feedburner and stopped developing it.

While I was in grad school, I removed the Feedburner subscription option but didn’t replace it as the road wasn’t clear. Those that use WordPress were still covered but those that don’t have not been served so I’ve now added new subscriber tools on the right. Not the way I’d like to manage this, but for a free blog you get to use the supplied tools.   ;-)

And now it’s time to clean this up by migrating my oldest subscribers to WordPress. If you’ve subscribed in the last couple of years, you’ll be on WordPress and are fine. It’s my long-term subscribers that will want to migrate.

Email subscribers
If your messages say Google on the bottom right, they’re coming from Feedburner. Please resubscribe on the website. There’s a the new box on the right. I’ll remove your addresses from Feedburner shortly or you can unsubscribe from the bottom of this message. I’ll also send you an email about this as well.

If your messages say WordPress at the bottom, you’re fine.

RSS Feed subscribers
If you followed awhile back, check your feed properties – if the URL includes feedburner, delete it and refollow with the RSS feed at this link or your usual way of adding.

Thanks for your patience in this transition. And thank you for your continued readership. Some of you have been reading for many years.
David

Native Advertising

August 14, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Posted in Economoney, Humor, Internet, Media, Online services, Psychology | Leave a comment

There’s a nasty trend developing in the media. The lack of income from on-line advertising for newspapers lead to a new approach known as “native advertising”. Basically it’s advertising presented like, and mixed in with, real news stories. While these are supposedly labelled, that’s the fine print. It’s presented to look like news.

This has been much more successful so now it’s migrating into print, which is desperate to increase revenue. I’m also seeing local papers sell increasingly large sections of their front page to advertising. Sometimes, even the entire front page. How long before that formatting looks more like news?

This trend is not confined to small papers but is being adopted by Time, The New York Times and other supposedly reliable new sources. The separation between “church and state”, between the business and editorial side? Discarded as an outmoded concept. Are they trying to accelerate their demise?

Why is this an issue? What is news if it’s run by advertisers? Infotainment at best. It certainly doesn’t lead to an informed public, which is rather important for a democracy to function properly.

The following clip is from John Oliver, a comedy show, but they cover the situation rather well. Once again, comedy becomes the way to say things we may not otherwise.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_F5GxCwizc

A Really Simple Web Site

August 7, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Blogs, Computers, Internet, Software, Web Design | 1 Comment

I’ve written much here on web design and set-up. If you have a business or service, you really do want to have a web presence. Otherwise, someone searching you on-line will get a blank or someone else. Networking by posting your email address on other web sites will bring you more spam than contacts. But posting your web address just brings the contacts. A nice, customized interactive blog with regular updates would be good but we don’t all have the time or inclination for that.

But you can have a simple, free on-line brochure/ business card. And it can be done quickly.

Firstly, you need a site. Your best choice long-term is a free WordPress.com blog. This can easily be migrated to a hosted site later if you decide to grow your presence. And it doesn’t have to be a blog. Most small sites today use blog technology, even when they don’t have a blog. It’s so much easier and feature-rich to set up.

Setting up a free blog (like this one) takes just a few minutes. This is just the basics:
1) go to WordPress.com and choose a blog name. On a free blog this is in the format
NAME.wordpress.com. Use your name or your service name or some easy version thereof.
2) Register for an account with them. They’ll send a confirming email. (they may ask you to do this first, then choose a name)
3) Log into your new blog at your new address. This will bring you into the Admin “Dashboard” with all the settings.
4) In Appearances, Themes, choose and activate one of the themes (the look) they supply. The one here is the Pool theme as you’ll see at the bottom – same on all free blogs if you see a layout you like. This can easily be changed and tuned here later.
5) Go into Posts, All Posts and edit the default Welcome post. This is like writing an email. Put in a short intro and how to reach you.
Do not post your email address directly. This will invite tons of spam.

You now have a live web site for your offering.

6) Next you need a contact form. Free WordPress doesn’t supply that so go to Contactify.com and sign up for a free account. Go back to edit your post above and add some text like “Contact Me” and use the special link from Contactify. (use the Link button to add a link to selected text) Your readers will click the link, fill in a small form and the result will come to your email account.

Now you have an official web presence and online business card. Simple.

When you have a few minutes later, you can explore other features like creating Home and About Pages, tweaking your chosen theme, changing the sidebar widgets around, and lots more. But that can be done any time. You can also get a little more professional by getting your own domain name for a dozen dollars a year. (as in NAME.com)

Molly Greene takes this process a little further with more details in her article here. WordPress has guides like this one.

There is also tons of on-line help for WordPress. But make sure you’re looking at WP.com support. Many sites are talking about WordPress.org, the version you host and configure. This is what you can migrate to later if you want. It’s much more customizable and modular but also more complex. Yet once familiar with WordPress, you can take that learning with you.

This blog you’re reading is a free blog I began in 2007.  I use the above Contactify service on my About page. My other blog is hosted, far more customized, and far more capable – it has a newsletter, ecommerce, and other features. It began the same as this one.

Enjoy!
David

Android Security

July 11, 2014 at 11:44 pm | Posted in Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software, Web Apps | Leave a comment

I’ve noticed that a lot of smart-phone users don’t take their security as seriously as they do on Windows machines. They’re happy to surf the web without virus protection and to install software with rather appalling permissions. I’ve seen simple games wanting access to your call history, data, identity, location and more – yet they’re recommended by the Play store. Clearly, their standards are not mine.

Android has become the most widely used OS in the world. It dominates mobile devices. So it’s become a target for trouble. And for the modern trend of collecting user info and selling it.

Fred Langa recently wrote a good overview of some of the apps you might find useful for Android security. He reviews AV suites, Password management, device recovery, wiping, and VPNs.

I’ve been surprised how robust the Android security suites have become. Fred mentions Lookout, which I’m not familiar with. He runs through it’s features, making it a good comparison point for other suites. He also notes that there is some garbage posing as security software – you do want software you can trust. I’ve been using ESET Antivirus for some time on my PC’s and have been very happy with it. So it’s a natural that I checked out ESET’s Android offering. I was surprised to discover they were actually underselling it on the web site.

The app walks you through setting up each section as you choose to activate that feature set. If it recommends setting changes, it gives you easy access to those settings. I didn’t have a need for ‘Call and SMS Blocking‘ but the rest of it was rich with features I found useful.

When I tried to register on the web site for an anti-theft account prior, it failed. But when I registered through the app, it worked fine. Not sure why they have a register option on the web site when its the device that has to register. I was then able to test the anti-theft features on-line. It did catch a picture of me and did show the phones location within about 5 meters. (that’s controlled by the area and phones GPS) If you’re prone to leave your phone places, that can be really handy. You can also text commands much as Fred describes in the article, like locking the phone, have it make a loud noise, and so forth.

Most satisfying to me was the ‘Security Audit‘ feature as I’d become concerned about the behaviour of some apps and I wasn’t as informed when setting the phone up. Indeed, it found one of the games had infection issues through it’s advertising. And a few apps had stepped over reasonable permission bounds. ESET takes you right to the apps permissions and uninstall if you need it.

The free version has somewhat reduced features but is fully functional. It’s clear in the app which parts you’re test-driving during the 30 day free trial. Scroll down the page here to see a comparison chart of the differences.

Premium ESET is currently on sale for $10/ year, $15 for 2. From Fred’s article, $15/yr seems typical for paid versions, though Lookout is $30. ESET is usually in the middle.

More
If you travel a lot or use public hot spots, a VPN can much improve security – especially if you need to do some banking or some such. Fred reviews some of those options. Device recovery and system wiping tools are included in some AV suites, like the above, but he also suggests stand alone ones if that’s needed.

Finally, Password management. For this, you want a tool that’s useful both on your PCs and mobile. Fred suggests several which basically mean having 2 or more password stores.  Not very efficient to have different passwords in different places – the one you need is the one that will be stored somewhere else.

As readers here know, I’m a fan of LastPass, a free PC password manager. The premium version, for $12 a year, adds many other features including mobile access to your password vault from any device. It also allows you to separate work and home passwords, create family shared ones, and adds enterprise tools.

Safe surfing, wherever you are.
David

Troubles in the CASL

July 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Posted in Computers, Economoney, Internet, Online services, Software | 3 Comments

Recently in Canada, a lot of small businesses and charities have been quite concerned. On July 1, new anti-spam legislation came into effect here. Many small organizations depend on low-cost messaging services to communicate and advertise. A few have been a little sloppy about their lists.

While anti-spam legislation is a good idea, when they define it with terms like “electronic address”, there are issues. Everything on the Internet has an electronic address. Also, very little spam originates from where the legislation will have any effect. Estimates I’ve seen suggest 2%.

The main thing you need to understand is that CASL is mostly about email, though Instant Messaging and SMS are included. It’s about sending directly to a person’s electronic address, typically to many such at a time.

If you’re doing so without their documented consent through some sort of relationship, this is now spamming and subject to fines. (see the implicit/ explicit summary below) Thus, you want to ensure your newsletter/ emailing list is fully Opt-in. If you’ve been using a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact, they will normally do a confirmed or double Opt-in. The end user enters an email address on-line or clicks a link and the system sends them an email to confirm – click and done. Even many blogs comment subscriptions double-confirm now (on WordPress).

However, if you’ve manually entered peoples email addresses or your list is mostly imported, then you will want to ask your subscribers to re-verify with a new Opt-in. You’ve probably seen a bunch of such emails yourself. Constant Contact handily offers a “CASL Template” for doing so. The user clicks the email link and it’s done. (though you’ll need to edit the Contacts, Signup Tools, Change of Interest email as that’s what they’ve used for an email post-confirmation – just make the message more generic.) Constant Contact has said they’ll be exposing the confirmed data in reports later this month. Managing will thus be easy.

With Constant Contact, you may also wish to update your email headers to add the Confirmation option to all emails as well.

So far MailChimp has offered an overview article on the subject. That makes setting up a confirmation email much more involved, not to mention managing the results. MadMimi just refers to the US CAN SPAM law with a link to the CASL site. Even less helpful.

If you’re emailing large groups from your home computer with no unsubscribe link and no opt-in routine, you’re falling further and further outside the law in N. America. Not such a cheap option if you get fined. If your list is under 2,000 in size and you don’t send a ton of messages, MailChimp and MadMimi are both free. I’d suggest that after you import your list, your first order of business will be to send a verification email to get everyone to opt in. Or you drop them.

You also then get all the advantages of reporting, subscription management and so forth. Much easier to manage. And the templates help you to easily design professional looking messages.

All of this will ensure your Contact list is compliant. It may also save you a bit of money as you purge email addresses that have gone stale – just look at your Open vs Send rates. Many abandon free accounts over time. And some ISP’s no longer bounce stale addresses as it can lead to them getting on spam lists, ironically.

Updates that you post on your blog, Twitter or Facebook are sent to yourself. People who then wish to partake of these updates can then choose to view or subscribe. No worries there, in spite of some comments in the news. CASL does not apply.

EasyDNS has offered an excellent summary of implicit and explicit consent and why sending an unsubscribe reminder (Opt Out) won’t cut it.

Also note that you have time. The government does not plan to enforce this for 3 years. But don’t wait – it will take time to herd your cats and you don’t want to wander onto someone’s radar meantime.

Finally, here’s a review of a CRTC presentation on the topic that should ease some minds. But it also highlights the vague language in the legislation. It’s also notable it covers unauthorized software installs but is again a little vague on meaning.

If you have any experience dealing with emailing services we’d be interested in hearing how well they supported you with CASL.
David

UPDATE – see comments

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